"Miss Kirie?" Isumi opened the door to the young shrine maiden's room-or cell, rather-and bowed respectively. Kirie looked up from the book she was reading. "Oh, good morning, Isumi," she greeted her servant.
"I have your breakfast for you," Isumi said, walking in and setting the tray on the table. She bowed again and turned to leave when Kirie called after her "Wait! Could you stay, maybe?"
Isumi turned around. "Am I allowed to?" she asked.
"Why wouldn't you be?" Kirie said. "You're my servant, correct? So if I request something you're supposed to do it. I request you stay."
"Well…all right," Isumi said awkwardly, sitting down on a cushion.
"So, tell me about your life," Kirie said, leaning forward.
"What do you mean, Miss?"
"I've been stuck in this dull old mansion for my whole life. I want to know what girls my age do in the outside world, what they're like."
"Well…I'm eleven years old, and I live in the village not far from the mansion with my mother and father and little brother. I spend the day working here, earning money for my family. I come up here in the morning to bring you your breakfast, clean the mansion until I need to bring you your lunch-"
"Yes, yes, yes, I know what you do here, but what is your life like outside of the mansion?" Kirie interrupted.
"Oh…um, well, I take care of my younger brother, which can be quite annoying."
"Why?" Kirie asked.
"He just loves making things difficult for me. I have to spend most of the time chasing him around. Once he locked me out of my house! I was banging on the door and windows for an hour while he sat inside laughing, the little brat!"
Kirie giggled. "That's funny!"
"No it isn't!" Isumi said indignantly.
"Well…I suppose it wasn't for you, but you have to admit it is kind of funny.
"I guess so," Isumi said, grinning.
"So, what do you do when you aren't working here or taking care of your brother?" Kirie asked.
"The usual. Spending
time with my friends, walking around the village, playing in the
"It must be nice," Kirie said, sounding almost wistful.
"Yes….so….what's your life like?" Isumi said.
"Not exciting, really," she replied. "I've never left the mansion. I'm not allowed to. I'm barely allowed to leave this stupid cell, though occasionally one of the priests will let me go out into the cherry atrium when the weather's nice."
"Why can't you leave?"
"I'm not supposed to become attached to the world. It's a requirement as a shrine maiden. The ritual wouldn't work if I became to attached to the world."
"Oh." Isumi stayed silent for a moment, then blurted out, "What is this ritual?" then turned red. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business. I was just curious."
Kirie looked down, trying to decide whether she should say anything. "It's supposed to be a secret…." She began. "Do you promise not to say anything to anyone if I tell you?"
"Every…seventy-five years I believe….a girl is sacrificed to keep the gates of hell closed. I've been chosen to be that girl."
"What will happen to you?" Isumi asked, her eyes wide.
"Well, when I'm of age….they tie ropes to my arms, legs, and neck….and pull off my limbs." She did her best to sound nonchalant, keeping any fear out of her voice. She couldn't be afraid. She was a shrine maiden. Shrine maidens weren't supposed to feel anything. Isumi, however, looked horrified. Her jaw dropped and tears welled up in her eyes. "That-that's terribe! It's inhuman!"
"It's my duty," Kirie said, shrugging.
"So you spend your whole life locked away, never experiencing…anything, and then you're brutally murdered? Miss Kirie, that isn't right! You should escape!"
"I can't just run away, Isumi. I need to stay. I need to fulfill the ritual. To protect my family and everyone at this mansion. I know you don't understand, but I'm doing the right thing."
Isumi gulped back a sob, but nodded. "I really should leave. I have to scrub the floor in the great hall."
"Goodbye, Isumi…and thank you."
"For keeping me company. I never have anyone to talk to here."
"Oh, well…you're welcome. Goodbye, Miss Kirie."
"Lord Himuro?" a priest poked his head into the study.
"We have…a slight problem."
"What is it?"
"Well, I was walking past Kirie's room and I heard her telling her servant about the ritual. Now an outsider knows."
"Kill her," the family master said shortly, turning back to the bookshelf.
"What?" the priest said, shocked. "But Sir, that seems a little harsh…."
"Harsh, but necessary," Lord Himuro said without looking up. "The secret must be protected at all costs."
"Y-yes, My Lord."
Isumi jumped slightly when she heard the door slide open. She hurried to her feet and bowed to the priest who had entered the grand hall. "Is there something wrong, Sir?" she asked.
"No, Isumi, but I need you to pull some weeds in the backyard. Come with me." The girl followed the priest outside, past the cherry atrium, through the staircase room and fish tank room. As soon as she stepped into the backyard, two priests jumped out from behind the corner and seized her arms. Isumi let out a yelp that was quickly muffled by one of the priest's hand. They dragged her across the yard to the well. She managed to briefly wrench out of the priests' grasp long enough to turn around, look up at Kirie's window and screamed, "KIRIE! HELP!" then was seized again. They lifted her up and dropped her into the well, her screams growing more and more distant. They heard a faraway splash that echoed against the stone. One priest hastily lifted the wooden lid and placed it on top just as Kire appeared at her window. "Did someone say my name?" she called down.
"No, you must be mistaken," one of the priests called back.
"Oh…if one of you see Isumi, could you please send her up?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Kirie, Miss Isumi is no longer working at this mansion. She…left with her family to another village."
"Oh….all right," Kirie replied, keeping any emotion out of her voice, but a small pang of disappointment throbbed in her heart.